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The Book of Numbers. This fourth book of the Bible carries forward the story of
Israel after their exodus from slavery
in Egypt. God had brought them to Mount

Sinai and He entered into a covenant with them there, and despite Israel's rebellion,
God had graciously provided a way for
Israel to live near his holy presence in

the tabernacle. So the Book of Numbers
begins as Israel wraps up their one-year

stay at Mount Sinai and they head out
into the wilderness on their way to the

land that God promised to Abraham. Now the book's storyline is designed
according to the stages of their journey. So the first section begins at Mount
Sinai, but then they set out in travel to
the wilderness of Paran. And then from

there they travel to the plains of Moab,
which is right across from the promised

land. Now the first part opens with a
census where the people are numbered.

That's where the book gets its name. And
then there are laws about how the tribes

of Israel were to be arranged in their
camp. So the tabernacle was to be at the

center, and then around that the priests
and the Levites, and then around them

the twelve tribes neatly arranged with
Judah at their head. Now this was all an

elaborate symbol about how God's holy
presence was at the center of their

existence as a people. This is all
followed by a whole series of laws that

developed the purity laws from the book
of Leviticus. If God's presence was going

to be in their midst, every effort should
be made to make the camp pure--a place

that welcomes God's holiness. In chapter
10, the cloud of God's presence lifts

from the tabernacle and guides Israel
away from Sinai out into the wilderness

and immediately things go terribly wrong.
So in chapter 11 the people start

complaining about their hunger and
thirst and how they want to go back to

Egypt. And then in chapter 12, Moses's
own brother and sister began opposing

and bad-mouthing him in front of all of
the people. This trip is not off to a

good start. The next section begins as
the Israelites arrived in the desert of

Paran--about halfway to the promised
land. And God tells Moses to send out the

twelve spies, one for each tribe, so they
can scout out the Promised Land. So when

the spies all return, ten of them say
that there is no chance Israel can

survive there because the Canaanites
will destroy them.

But there are two spies, Caleb and Joshua, who say that God can save them but the
10 whip up the people into a fearful
rage and they start planning a mutiny!

They're going to appoint a new leader
and head back to Egypt. So God is

understandably angry and Moses intercedes on the people's behalf. He calls
God to be faithful to His promises to
Abraham. And so God does, but not at the

expense of his justice. He gives these
Israelites what they want--to not enter

the land. And God sentences this
generation to wander in the wilderness

for forty years until they die.
Only their children will get to enter the
Promised Land. Now you'd think this severe

consequence would wake them up, but it
gets even worse. So, in the next story

there's a whole group of Levites that
began a rebellion and they challenged

Moses and Aaron's leadership, saying that they have gone way too far. So God deals
severely with these Levites and he renews
his commitment to Moses and Aaron as

Israel's leaders. Now as they leave the
region of Paran and hit the road, it goes

downhill yet again. The Israelites start
complaining again about their thirst and

they ask why Moses even brought them out of Egypt in the first place. So God tells
Moses to speak to a rock, to bring out
water for all of the people. But Moses

doesn't really do this. He oversteps
his bounds. He hits the rock twice and

then says, "You rebels! Do we have to bring water out of this rock?" So Moses
dishonors God by putting himself in
God's place as the one who brings out

the water. And so Moses brings down on
himself the same fate as the wilderness

generation. He too will die in the desert
and never get to enter the Promised Land.

After this the Israelites rebel yet
again and God brings a very strange

judgment on them.
Venomous snakes to come and bite the people. And so Moses again
intercedes on behalf of the people and
God tells Moses to do this: to make a

bronze snake and lift it up on a pole
so that whoever looks at this snake

would be healed of the poisonous snake
bite. It's a very strange symbol, but it speaks

to the challenge that God has by being
faithful to His covenant. He's right to

bring justice on the Israelites' evil.
But even God's justice gets transformed
into a source of life for those who will

look to God for healing. From here the
people head into the plains of Moab.

The first main part of this section
focuses on the strange figure of Balaam.

So the king of Moab is freaked out
at this huge group of people traveling

through his territory, so he hires a
pagan sorcerer, Balaam, to pronounce curses

on Israel. And three different times
Balaam finds that he cannot curse them.
He can utter only blessing upon Israel.

Remember God's promise to Abraham from Genesis 12. So not only can Balaam not
curse Israel, but God actually gives him
a vision about a future Israelite king

who will one day bring God's justice to
all of the nations. This vision recalls

Jacob's promise to Judah in Genesis chapter
49. Now it's worth stopping to reflect on

the flow of the book so far. The
rebellion stories in the wilderness, they

just heap up on one another, getting
worse and worse. And while God does bring

partial acts of judgment on Israel, he's
also kept showing mercy, providing food

and water along the way. And so the
Balaam story, it shows God's grace in

bright colors because here's Israel--
they're down on the camp grumbling and

rebelling--but up in the hills,
unbeknownst to them,

God is protecting and even blessing them.
And it's this contrast between Israel's

rebellion and God's faithfulness in the
wilderness that has made these

stories so important for later
generations of Israel. So the wilderness

stories are retold time and again by
later biblical prophets and poets and

even by the apostles in the New
Testament. And these stories always serve

as a warning that while God will remain
faithful to His covenant promises, he

will also allow his people to walk away
in rebellion and face the consequences.

After this, the rest of the book focuses
on the children of the wilderness

generation and they begin preparing to
inherit the promised land. They take

another census of the new generation,
then they go on and win a number of

battles with the people groups around
them and then a few tribes even begin to

settle in the Promised Land. So the book ends with the new generation poised to
enter into the land
and Moses is about to deliver his final
words of wisdom and warning. But for now,

that's what the book of Numbers is all
about.

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Read Scripture: Numbers

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Precious Annie Liao 2018 年 4 月 10 日 に公開
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